The Relative Comment

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Keith Ellison, in two sentences

with one comment

The theater that is the US Government is going to start to a new production: a panel investigation of homegrown Islamic terrorism. Regardless of whether one finds this kind of investigation a good or bad idea (for the record, TRC thinks gov’t investigations of wholesale demographic groups of US citizens are a bad idea), understanding the role of Representative Keith Ellison in the country is becoming more and more important.

What does it mean to be the first Muslim elected to US Congress? What kind of expectation should or shouldn’t be placed on such an individual? I am an admirer of Rep. Ellison. I like his politics, and his fierce commitment to his values. I like that he’s from my state, and I like that my state elected the first Muslim. Minnesota is a place where difference is allowed–not just political and religious but sexual and racial, too.  So what does it mean to be the first Muslim elected to US Congress?

Here is Kevin Diaz, of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, writing about the panel, and Ellison. This is the second paragraph of his article:

Ellison, a Muslim whose Minneapolis district has been fertile recruitment ground for Al-Shabab insurgents in Somalia, calls the GOP-led inquiry a “McCarthyistic” witch hunt that could demonize Muslims. As a star witness in the hearing, Ellison will be spotlighted nationally as the face of American Muslims.

Read that paragraph again, and look at just how much is said about Keith Ellison in those two sentences. Anything that follows will be informed by these notions, so fully loaded with information, subtle and non-, that Diaz has at this early point comprised a framework for Ellison difficult, if not impossible, to break out of.

What do we learn? Readers know he is Muslim and from Minneapolis. That his district is a recruitment ground for terrorists. A very fertile one indeed. And not just insurgents and terrorists, but insurgents who work for the scary, unknown group Al Shabab in Somalia. Ellison, in addition, considers the investigation a McCarthyist Witch Hunt, hearkening back to the good old days when the gov’t just went ahead and turned on its citizens. (It’s in fashion now, by the way, for conservatives to defend McCarthy and HUAC because there were, indeed, Communists in the country and gov’t, which I don’t think was the point). Finally, Ellison is the star witness; he is, no burden at all I’m sure, the face of the American Muslim. Whew.

Maybe all of this is true. Kevin Diaz might be putting forth just the facts, as he understands them. Context is key, and Diaz does go on to provide a bit of context, where he can fit it into the alluring narrative of homegrown insurgents and government investigations. This is, after all, a local story with all the intrigue a local reporter could hope for. Why waste time discussing, for example, why there are so many Somali individuals living in Minneapolis in the first place, or who/what is Al Shabab?

This may seem like a lot of criticism leveled at a single paragraph in a single news story in a local paper. But it is not. Hundreds of thousands of people will likely read this story today. Many will not read the whole thing, but breeze through the first few sentences and pass on. They will get only enough information to know that the Muslim Congressman opposes his gov’t’s attempt to stem homegrown Islamic terrorism. Then they will turn the page, and read about Joe Mauer’s knee.


Written by Christopher ZF

March 7, 2011 at 11:44

One Response

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  1. You are a smart guy, Christopher Z. Finke.


    March 14, 2011 at 11:31

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